Wednesday 17 July 2019

Madigan remains out in the cold as Schmidt doubles down on unofficial selection policy

Ian Madigan. Photo: Sportsfile
Ian Madigan. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

If you choose exile, then perhaps Bordeaux isn't such a bad option. If he had any doubts about where his decision to move to France left him in terms of the international pecking order, Ian Madigan now knows exactly where he stands.

That's behind two players who Munster choose not to select in the No 10 shirt for their biggest games, Ian Keatley and Rory Scannell, who this week find themselves in the unusual position of battling to cover Paddy Jackson at Murrayfield on Saturday.

There is no rule written down by the IRFU on overseas players, but Joe Schmidt's decision not to break the emergency glass when Johnny Sexton pulled up while running on Monday and call for Madigan to come in from the cold this week shows just where Ireland stand on their wild geese.

Sexton was himself the exception to the rule and was picked when available ahead of the home-based Madigan when he was at Racing 92, but although they remain available to Schmidt, he chooses not to pick the likes of the Bordeaux out-half and Marty Moore because he will favour home-based players wherever possible.

Even this week when alternative No 10s are thin on the ground, he has recalled Keatley after a two-year absence rather than turning to Madigan who knows the Irish play-book inside out having been back-up out-half to Johnny Sexton for most of Schmidt's time in charge and the starter in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final.

He barely featured in South Africa last June, while Joey Carbery leapfrogged him when Madigan was injured in November, but is only just back training after ankle surgery, while Ross Byrne and Jack Carty have been overlooked in favour of Keatley who still has not been officially announced as part of the squad having been spirited in under the cloak of silence during last week's training.

The Munster man started the Six Nations opener in Rome in 2015 ahead of Madigan but has endured a torturous two seasons since, losing form and confidence in full public view before conceding his place as the province's first-choice out-half to Tyler Bleyendaal this season.

The New Zealander has signed on until 2020 and, barring a change in the eligibility laws, will become available to Schmidt in January to boost his out-half stocks, while Carbery, Byrne and Carty will grow in experience in the coming months and JJ Hanrahan will be back with Munster to provide more viable alternatives to the main men.

But, for now, Schmidt has chosen to leave out a fit out-half with 30 caps to his name for a crucial game to continue to reward those who ply their trade within Ireland.

It's risky business.

"That's the way we're trying to go," Simon Easterby said of the unwritten rule. "It's not perfect. There will be outliers from that rule, but we have to try to support and develop those guys who are within the country. Unfortunately, when players do leave, their time with us is restricted in terms of getting released for camps.

"All of those things do have implications for selection and they know that when they leave.

"Unfortunately, Ian couldn't be with us last week anyway because he was on the bench for Bordeaux against Clermont so it compromises his position with us when he is not playing in Ireland and we are trying to support those guys who are staying here.

"Circumstances may allow us to look outside of that but as it happens at the moment we have got those three guys in and Mads hasn't been selected in the squad.

"He couldn't be included last week so that hasn't really helped his cause."

Easterby pointedly referenced the fact that Madigan hadn't started against Clermont last weekend and it hasn't helped that the 27-year-old has not torn up trees in his first Top 14 campaign, but he has still put together 10 appearances - six of them starts.

He is fit, experienced and nails his goal-kicks. If Jackson gets injured in Edinburgh this weekend Schmidt might well regret that he hasn't got the Bordeaux man on his bench.

Irish Independent

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